HIST 413: An Overview
In the popular imagination, conflict is the one constant to expect of the Middle East. But this expectation is a self-selecting one. The media presents ever more vivid footage each time hostilities break out in actual violence. In between moments of military engagement or terrorist act, the many different parties in the Middle East co-exis—often not happily, and usually with a great many unresolved issues still simmering. Can they get along, though? Such a question lies at the root of any real interest in the problems of the Middle East. This course is not going to pretend to be able to answer that question since such efforts move beyond history.
As a history course, however, it will endeavor to trace the evolution of the Middle East’s many conflicts into the present day. This effort is risky for two primary reasons that students should be aware of—and respect!—from the start. First, this analysis of the past is going to be very present-focused almost from the start, and that stereo effect means that contemporary agendas may often be lurking just underneath a supposedly neutral discussion of “facts.” We must all be aware of how to argue respectfully in a public setting. Second, as this course’s subject material moves closer in time to ourselves, the political sensitivity of the players means that more and more evidence remains closeted from public scrutiny. In short, we need to be nervous and humble as we proceed, realizing that we have limited viewpoints thanks to the rampant secreting away of documents by the governments, individuals, and corporations involved.
Finally, “conflict” is hardly a narrow parameter. It naturally encompasses the many wars that have been a hallmark of the region’s history. But conflict comes in many forms: inter-state and ethnic wars, plus many other intersections as well—generational misunderstandings, religious compunctions, economic stress, gender issues, resource competition, and the list goes on. Moreover, each of these forms often ends up in dangerous combinations with the others.
The goals (fruits?) of a history course are as numerous as the books which historians produce. Some have already been hinted at above. At the broadest level, though, historical study encourages and hones critical analysis of the questions which most concern us. And these issues are themselves countless, but in the most generic terms, they mostly center on the relations of people with one another, with themselves, with the natural world and with the supernatural. We will be asking “why?” rather a lot: Why did they think that? Why did they assume such a thing? Even as we ask these questions, others lie implicitly underneath: why do I think what I think? What are my prejudices and assumptions? How does my heritage sway my conclusions?
One of the primary tasks of historians is the weighing of evidence: evaluating why some parts of the factual record appear to have more weight or pertinence than other parts, why we might trust some documents but not others, and how we treat gaps in the evidentiary record. A course such as this will put this skill right to the forefront.
Grading and Assignments
For the academic year 2011–12 and onward, Longwood has adopted a system wherein a letter grade with a + or a - is weighted in the computations of the student’s GPA. Look to my “General Policies” for how I will be assigning such grades from the numerical basis that I use in the course.
Participation: (10%) Our course will be a mixture of lectures and seminar-style participation. Come to class prepared with that day's readings already digested (i.e., don’t just cast your eyes over the words on the page or screen; think about the implications and issues involved). Be ready to ask questions; be ready to be asked questions. The readings are admittedly heavy at times; prepare yourself accordingly.
The Media in the Middle East: (12%) Pick a week in the semester that suits you for tackling this assignment. For five days, monitor the English language website of al-Jazeera and compare it to a parallel news agency in the Middle East. I might suggest the Israel’s Haaretz, or perhaps the English version of Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram. Write up your observations in a four to five-page analysis.
Exams: (42%) We will have three exams, two in the regular semester and a final. Each one will comprise 14% of the course grade. There will be an objective component to each exam, but the majority of each exam will be based on essays (essays which should demonstrate both a command of the historical information and the relevant concepts).
Quizzes: (24%) There will be seven small quizzes. Two of them—the scheduled ones—will focus on your knowledge of the geography of the Middle East. The other five will monitor your command of the reading material; they may occur at any point in the semester. At semester's end, the lowest of these grades will be dropped automatically, leaving you with six quizzes factored into the course grade.
Movies: (12%) Across the semester on Sunday evenings, the instructor will show four movies produced within or about the Middle East. You are required to view at least two of these. And to write a three-page analysis of one of those two. Further specifics concerning this analysis will be forthcoming.
Course MaterialsRequired Texts (available through the bookstore):
- Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace
- Milton-Edwards & Hinchcliffe, Conflicts in the Middle East since 1945
- Nasr, The Shia Revival
- Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict
- Amir, Zahra’s Paradise
- Aburish, excerpts from Arafat: from Defender to Dictator
- Ajami, excerpts from The Arab Predicament
- Yapp, excerpts from The Near East since the First World War
- Axworthy, excerpts from A History of Iran
Lecture & Reading Schedule
This course is a mixture of lecture and discussion. Since these formats will be intermingled, you need to prepare properly by completing the assigned readings in advance. This is no less true for lecture than for discussion. For pages in the Milton-Edwards & Hinchcliffe text, they are listed under the designation MEH. The numbered documents come from the Gelvin text unless otherwise stipulated.
Readings and Assignments
|18 Jan||Intro to Course|
|20 Jan||MEH: 1–7; Gelvin, 1–12|
Intro to Islam
|25 Jan||Intro to Shi‛ism
|27 Jan||Islam & the West||Gelvin, 46 –74; Fromkin, 15-32||Docs. 1.2–1.3|
|30 Jan||WWI: The Turkish Quandary||Fromkin, 33–76||Docs. 2.1–2.5|
|1 Feb||WWI: No Easy Solution||Fromkin, 96–105, 119–123, 130–158|
|3 Feb||WWI: The Arab Gambit||Fromkin, 166-203, 218–228|
|6 Feb||WWI: Zionism’s Chance||Fromkin, 253–301|
|10Feb||Start Lawrence of Arabia|
|12 Feb||MOVIE @ 3:30 (Site TBA)||Lawrence of Arabia|
|13 Feb||WWI: Allied Advances||Fromkin, 305–347|
|15 Feb||WWI: Victory’s Harvest(?)||Fromkin, 363–411
|17 Feb||1919—1920||Fromkin, 413–462||Documents 3.3–3.6|
|20 Feb||Last Moves / First Moves||Fromkin, 483–539, 558–567|
|24 Feb||Britain and the Mandate||Gelvin, 83 –91|
|27 Feb||Palestine: Arab, Jewish & European Agendas||Gelvin, 92 –115|
|29 Feb||WWII: The Wider Middle East||Yapp, excerpts|
|2 March||WWII: Palestine||Smith (excerpts on Blackboard)||Document 4.1–4.3|
|4 March||MOVIE @ 3:30 in Blackwell Hall's Victoria Room||The Yacoubian Building (165 minutes)|
|5 March||Demise of the Mandate||Gelvin, 116 –126|
|7 March||Israel Comes into Being||Gelvin, 126–134|
|9 March||The Naqba||Aburish, “The Making of a Palestinian”
|12—16 March||Spring Break|
|19 March||The Cold War Angle / The Suez Crisis
|21 March||Arab Politics & Nationalisms, 1956–67||Nasr, 81–117|
|23 March||Radicalization: Faith||MEH, 49–59||Ajami, excerpts on Islamism|
|26 March||Radicalization: Politics||Aburish, “Fatah and the Road to 1967” (in Blackboard); and Isaac, “The Ba‘ath of Syria and Iraq”|
|28 March||The 1967 War||Gelvin, 173-182|
|30 March||Aftermaths||MEH, 22–35; Gelvin, 182–194|
|4 April||The 1973 War|
|6 April||The PLO’s Course||Gelvin, 196–212|
|8 April||MOVIE @ 3:30 in Blackwell Hall's Victoria Room||Lebanon (96 minutes)|
|9 April||Egypt Breaks Ranks|
|11 April||Lebanon’s Nightmare||MEH, 60–73,|
|13 April||Pahlevi Iran and the Shah’s Fall||Nasr, 119–126
||Excerpt from Axworthy|
|16 April||Khomeini in Charge||Nasr, 126–145; Begin Zahra’s Paradise|
|18 April||The Iran-Iraq War||MEH, 87–97
Al-Jazeera Comparison Paper Due
|20 Apr||Iran Ascendant / Saudi Reaction||Nasr, 147–168|
|22 April||MOVIE @ 3:30 in Blackwell Hall's Victoria Room||Offside (93 minutes)|
|23 April||Kuwait and the First Gulf War||MEH, 98–108|
|25 April||Palestinians: Adrift, Angry, and . . .||Gelvin, 212–228|
|27 April||Whose Problem?||
MEH, 121–135; Nasr, 250–273
Contacting your Professor
Dr. Steven Isaac
Office: Ruffner 226-A
Office Phone: 395-2225
Office Hours: MWF 11:00–11:50 / TR 10:00-10:50
Send me an E-mail